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Remarks at ALPA Air Safety Forum, Washington, DC
Deborah A. P. Hersman
Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) Air Safety Forum, Washington, DC

Thank you, Captain McDermott. This is my 8th Air Safety Forum and it is a privilege - to address so many individuals - and an organization - that do so much for aviation safety. In bringing this conference to a close, I think it is appropriate to be in a reflective mood and ask ourselves, where have we been, and where are we going?

Think back 80 years to 1931. Yes, it is the Great Depression. But it's also the golden age of aviation. Donald Douglas is building the predecessor aircraft to the venerable DC-3. Pan Am inaugurates service with an S-40 flying boat with Lindbergh at the helm.

80 years ago... ALPA is formed. Your first president, David Behncke, recommended creating an independent five -member safety board to investigate the probable cause of aviation accidents and to make safety recommendations.

What a great idea! Five individuals, combining their talents to make a formidable team for improving transportation safety!

80 years ago... Pilots are flying as many as 170 hours per month. Early print editions of the Air Line Pilot report there is a pilot death, on average, every 28 days. "A Page of Sorrow" lists the names of pilots killed on the job.

80 years ago ... one of ALPA's first issues: flight and duty time. Your leadership said, "A tired pilot is an unsafe pilot." That fall, the Department of Commerce limits the first pilot, or captain, to a maximum of 110 flight hours per month. And, as we all know, the discussion - and the debate - on flight and duty time continues today.

80 years later. . .ALPA is still leading the way, and we are still talking about flight and duty time. We share your frustration with the special interests who are putting profits ahead of safety and slow rolling the publication of the final rule.

This afternoon you heard from Tom Haueter about the NTSB and our recommendations – many of them have focused on the basic issues of training, teamwork and leadership.

And I know when it comes to advocating for safety - we have much in common. Throughout your history, ALPA has advocated, and helped achieve, improvements in the cockpit, such as ground proximity warning systems... weather radar on aircraft... collision avoidance systems and so much more.

Today, I want to talk about your passion for aviation safety and building the next generation of pilots through training, teamwork and leadership.

In our business at the NTSB, we see bad outcomes. So every year I look forward to seeing line pilots recognized for good outcomes in the face of challenging situations. And I especially look forward to seeing you give out the gold tonight. That is, the gold and blue tie that goes to the Air Safety Award winner. I am fortunate to know several of the recipients of those ties... One of them is my colleague, Robert Sumwalt. Robert has a photo in his office of himself, with his wife Anne and his daughter Mackenzie and Ambassador Woerth from 2005. In that photo, Robert is wearing the Air Safety Award blue and gold tie he received for a career of contributions. That recognition from ALPA is a testament to Robert's passion for aviation safety. Just as it is a testimony to everyone who will be wearing blue and gold ties tonight.

As we look forward to the next 80 years, how do each of you, as professionals and leaders in the industry instill that same passion in the next generation of safety professionals?

As a parent of three boys, I think a lot about building the next generation. One of the things our family does together is sports. Now that our sons are older, we participate in races - not because we are great athletes or really competitive, although my 10-year-old beat me in a 5k last year! We like to do these races because they challenge each of us individually AND we also get through them together, as a family, as a team. There is a lot to learn from participating in a 5k, a triathlon, or our most recent challenge: the Spartan Sprint.

There is a kids' version, but the adult Spartan Sprint is an event with challenging obstacles like a barbed wire crawl, fire jump, and Spartan-inspired stuff, like spear throwing and a gladiator pit. As Dave Barry says, "I am not making this up." There's running, jumping, climbing, even some dragging of self and teammates.

I'm here today to tell you that there are some life lessons in these events that are universal truths when it comes to bringing your A-game to the course - or to the cockpit.

Life lesson number one. Train well. It's essential that when you're in the moment that you are prepared, vigilant, and disciplined.

It sounds simple, doesn't it? Yet, at NTSB we see too many accidents when there was not adequate preparation or performance when it counted. One accident that comes to mind is Colgan 3407. That accident led to the Aviation Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act.

Life lesson number two. Work together. Teamwork is about listening, sharing your knowledge, knowing when to lead and when to follow. With his physical strength and my perseverance – my husband and I are a good team as we assist and motivate each other to get through the course. How about the teamwork last November when the pilots on the Qantas A380 with the uncontained engine failure, and subsequent multiple system failures, landed safely at Singapore with no injuries?

Life lesson number three. The importance of sound decision making and leadership. You need to make snap decisions on the obstacle course. How to climb up that pyramid with only a soap-covered line to help you ...or how to traverse a treacherous part of the course without hurting yourself. It seems intense when you're on the race course, but that intensity pales in comparison to the decisions that you may face at flight level 350. I know each of you can think of an accident that reflected a bad decision - from a take off at Tenerife to a landing in Little Rock.

At the end of the Spartan Sprint, everyone gets a medal. It's not about speed ... it's about completing the challenge. When you cross that finish line, it is an individual AND a team accomplishment.

So, tonight, when awards are given think about what has really been accomplished - you flew thousands of flights safely and you carried many more thousands of people safely. With your professionalism, tragedies were averted. Lives were saved. It doesn't get any more important than that. Your job flying the line can seem repetitive and rote, but at any moment - as those Qantas pilots found - the humdrum can quickly become the most challenging obstacle course - calling on every tool in your professional toolkit.

I opened my remarks talking about the past ...when aviation's biggest challenges were more clear cut - improving equipment, developing standardized procedures, and staying clear of terrain. Today's challenges are more subtle safety obstacles: automation, complacency, and distractions. But training, teamwork and leadership are still your best bets when responding to old or new safety threats.

So, we have to ask ourselves: Are we building pilots who can handle the challenges of the next 80 years?

We heard loud and clear from many pilots at last year's professionalism forum that nothing was more important to maintaining professionalism in their careers than flying with captains who modeled the right attitudes.

It's really up to you - today's pilots, today's ALPA members, to help build the new generation ... one pilot at a time. While you are in the left seat make the right choice. Mentor those who are following you. You are the most powerful teachers. While you are flying, model professionalism through your training, teamwork and leadership. Pass it forward.

"Each one, teach one."

That can be your individual legacy. And, by each one of you - all of you collectively - doing this - ALPA will be a passionate force and continue its legacy of safety leadership for the next 80 years.